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Views of naval engagements and maps of battles

Robert Dodd (1748-1815)

Île d'Aix, 1809

This View of the ENEMY'S FLEET aground at the mouth of the River Charent, after being forced to run from their Anchorage by the FIRE SHIPS, with the Imperieuse and other Frigates / advancing to attack them, on the morning... 1809 or later

Aquatint with etching and engraving; printed on paper; laid down on paper, the paper backing brought round the edges of the recto | 42.0 x 64.6 cm (image) | RCIN 735146

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A view of Lord Gambier's attack, using fire ships, on the French fleet of the Île d'Aix on 11 April 1809. Napoleonic Wars (1803-15).

Admiral James Gambier (1756-1833), to whom this print is dedicated, had been made commander-in-chief of the Channel fleet in 1808. His fire ships are shown in this view attacking a French squadron which was en route for the West Indies. Gambier had earlier written to the Admiralty suggesting an attack using fire ships ('a horrible mode of warfare' he termed it); his message crossed with one from the Admiralty instructing him to do so, saying that twelve transport ships were being fitted out as fire ships, to be sent out accompanied by the rocket inventor William Congreve R.A. (1772-1828) and a supply of rockets and men trained to use them. The Admiralty further instructed Gambier to 'make an attack on the French fleet at their anchorage off Isle d'Aix, if practicable'.

The principal attack, which ultimately had the effect of indisposing the French fleet for several months, leaving the West Indies without support, was carried out by Thomas Cochrane (1775-1860), 10th Earl of Dundonald, who played a prominent and significant part in the defeat and neutralising of the French fleet. His name is not mentioned, however, in Dodd's dedication of this view. This may be because, following the completion of the action, Cochrane accused Gambier of not having followed up the attack of the fire ships swiftly enough with the ships of the line.

Many of the French ships, their captains and crew terrified by the fire ships, had run aground in the mouth of the Charente, as depicted in this view. In the ensuing court martial, held between 26 July and 4 August, Gambier was honourably acquitted and Cochrane was viewed with dislike for what was perceived to be his unattractive behaviour towards the admiral. Following the court martial, Parliament gave a vote of thanks to Gambier, and a second vote of thanks to 'Rear-admiral the Honourable Robert Stopford, Captain Sir Harry Neale, captain of the fleet, and to the several officers and captains of the fleet under the command of Lord Gambier'. This form of words is very similar to Dodd's dedication of this print. As a post-scriptum, however, Napoleon is supposed to have said that had Gambier supported Cochrane with more alacrity he could have wiped out the French fleet instead of merely crippling it for a few months.

This print appears to be one of a pair with RCIN 735145.

  • Robert Dodd (1748-1815) (artist and publisher) [bottom left, below edge of view:] Painted by R. Dodd; [bottom, left of centre, below title:] Published by R. Dodd N.o 41 Charing Cross, near the Admiralty.

  • Watermark: None visible

    Condition: no fold lines. Verso: brown discolouration

  • 38.6 x 64.6 cm (neatline)

    42.0 x 64.6 cm (image)

    44.6 x 69.5 cm (platemark)

    46.8 x 71.8 cm (sheet)

  • Printed title:

    This View of the ENEMY'S FLEET aground at the mouth of the River Charent, after being forced to run from their Anchorage by the FIRE SHIPS, with the Imperieuse and other Frigates / advancing to attack them, on the morning of the 12,,th of April, 1809, is most respectfully Inscribed, to the several Captains, Officers, and Seamen employed on that service, / By their Obedient Servant, Rob.t Dodd. [bottom, below view]

    Annotations:

    (Recto) [bottom left, black pencil, in Evelyn Heaton-Smith's hand]: XV.146; [bottom right, black pencil:] 6. (Verso) [bottom left, black pencil:] 200.b(ii); [bottom right, black pencil, obscured by paper backing:] S & R pair £ 1-11-6.

    George III catalogue entry:

    Naval Engagement View of the Enemy's Fleet aground at the Mouth of the River Charente after being forced to run from their Anchorage by the Fire Ships; with the Imperieuse and other Frigates advancing to attack them on the morning of the 12.th of April 1809: by R. Dodd.

  • From the collection of military and naval maps and prints formed by George III (1738-1820)

  • Subject(s)

    Île d'Aix, Poitou-Charentes, France (46°01'14"N 01°10'19"W)

  • Bibliographic reference(s)

    R.C. Blake, 'Gambier, James, Baron Gambier (1756–1833)', Dictionary of National Biography, 2004; online edition 2008.

    A. Lambert, 'Cochrane, Thomas, tenth earl of Dundonald (1775–1860)', Dictionary of National Biography, 2004; online edition 2012.

    R.T. Stearn, 'Congreve, Sir William, second baronet (1772–1828)', Dictionary of National Biography, 2004; online edition 2007.

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